Termite Biodiesel Fuels
Summary: Biodiesel fuels is an emerging technology which some hope will eliminate the need for fossil fuels. Something found in the hindguts of a termite might help to revolutionize this industry into termite biodiesel fuels.
Termites are considered a pest to most, they do billions of dollars worth of damage to homes each year, but termites might teach us something that is worth much more. Scientists have been studying the microbes in the stomachs of termites. These little microbes help the termites to digest the cellulose in the wood the termites find so tasty.
Termites have several parts to their stomachs and, similar to cows, can digest food that humans cannot. The Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute is conducting research on the microbes found in termites' third stomach. These particular microbes create enzymes that break down woody polymers into sugar used for energy. This sugar can be refined into valuable bio fuel like ethanol.
Research has shown that several different kinds of microbes are compartmentalized into different areas of the termite's hindguts. They work together to help the termite to digest cellulose found in wood and other plants.
Work is being done to isolate, identify, and characterize the genetic material they find in termite stomachs. Scientists hope that by studying the small microbes they will learn the metabolic pathways that convert bio mass like wood into sugar that can be fermented and turned into bio fuel.
Thanks to a breakthrough by research scientists, they have now figured out the genetic information of a key microbe in the termite digestive system. This means that some day we will be able to convert dead wood,and wood byproducts into energy without using land or crops required for food.
Although the technology that would be needed to scale up the process of digestion in a termite's stomach to a level that would be useful for human biodiesel fuel production is far off, the Department of Energy plans to spend up to $375 billion in three new Bio-energy research centers to accelerate this study.